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The Thing about Musicals

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I guess the thing about musicals is that they clearly aren’t believable; people do not spontaneously burst into song every ten minutes.  But then that’s the whole point of a musical, isn’t it?  It’s all about the songs and not so much about the believability. 

It’s not like musicals are easier to write than regular movies or plays.  I’ll admit that it really does take talent to integrate a plot with music and lyrics –so maybe fans of musicals are simply appreciating the difficulty inherent in the art.  Of course, writing a plot that is believable, also requires talent.  Really, the writer of a musical is just substituting the difficulty of writing believability , with the difficulty of writing music. 

It’s hard to argue whether musicals or traditional stories are ‘better’, from the perspective of the writing, considering the writers of each have different objectives. 

Could it all come down to personal preference?  Personally, I just don’t see the point of combining music and story in a long-run visual format.  There is something amusing about a story embedded in a song, but many radio songs do this without needing actors or a one-hundred and twenty minute run-time.  When a song tells a story the whole thing lasts less than 5 minutes, which is just about the amount of time I can go with a piece of entertainment before I need a deeper level of engagement.  A musical is like listening to a song for an hour and half.  Except it isn’t; a musical isn’t as good as a real song because a musical is still trying to be a play at the same time –it’s trying to squeeze in more words and missing out on opportunities to really develop a groove and let the instruments take strong roles.

But even if musicals managed to produce some really interesting music (which they almost never do), they still have a weakness: time. Some people enjoy sitting down and dedicating their attention to music for over an hour, but I am guessing most of these people are either high, or else have a very deep understanding of how music is constructed.  For the rest of us, it seems that more is needed and that’s where a believable narrative comes in. 

This, I believe is why musicals go to such efforts with the ‘spectacle’ of stage design, wardrobe and effects (to the point that ‘successful musical’ and ‘lavish stage design’ are almost indivisible); they need everything they can to keep the viewer engaged through the void left by believability.

 

 

 

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